Since the retreat of the great glaciers about 10,000 years ago, Aboriginal populations have inhabited the BC landscape.
BC's first people may have journeyed to the region from Asia via a land bridge across the Bering Sea. As the ice receded, forests advanced and fluctuating sea levels exposed the temporary land passage linking Asia to the New World.
It is thought that BC's coastal region became one of the most densely populated areas in North America. Prior to European contact, BC's First Nations populations may have numbered some 300,000. The Aboriginal way of life would continue undisturbed for thousands of years, until the arrival of the British in 1778.
When British naval explorer Captain James Cook reached the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1778, he was eager to trade with the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) people. In his wake, waves of European settlers arrived, carrying smallpox and other diseases that decimated Aboriginal populations in the late 1700s.
Nearly a century later, British agent James Douglas was searching the Pacific Coast for a new Hudson's Bay Company headquarters. He was welcomed by the Lekwammen, whose villages dotted the shores of what is now Greater Victoria. Douglas settled in and selected a site called Camosack. A year later, in 1843, Fort Victoria was built in the area now known as Old Town, the heart of Victoria's downtown.
Gold Rush in BC
The discovery of gold in the Fraser River and the Cariboo brought a rapid influx of prospectors, merchants, pioneers and other colourful figures to BC in the 1860s. They came from around the world, arriving from as far away as China. It was a time of rapid economic expansion; sleepy hamlets became bustling cities, and new roads, railways and steamships were constructed to carry the extra load.
Boomtowns were born and legends made, but not all experienced good fortune. The Aboriginal peoples lost most of their ancestral lands and, in 1876, First Nations populations were made subject to the federal Indian Act, which regulated every aspect of their lives.
Rapid Expansion in BC
Transportation and development marked another period of rapid economic expansion during the 1950s and 60s. Massive building projects changed the shape of the BC landscape. Expansive damming projects turned rivers into lakes; giant turbines powered dozens of new pulp mills and smelters; and the Trans Canada Highway was completed, while new bridges, railways, and BC Ferries linked land, people and technological progress.
BC's Cultural Diversity
Today, BC's population is wonderfully diverse. More than 40 major Aboriginal cultural groups are represented in the region. The province's large Asian communities have made Chinese and Punjabi the most spoken languages after English. There are also sizeable German, Italian, Japanese and Russian communities – all creating a vibrant cultural mosaic in which distinct cuisine, architecture, language and arts thrive.
In 1986 the City of Vancouver celebrated its centennial, hosting the Expo '86 World Exposition. That same year, the Sechelt Indian Band was the first Aboriginal group in BC to gain a municipal style of self-government.
In 2000, the Nisga'a Treaty came into being. The Nisga'a Nation, who has lived in the Nass area since time immemorial, negotiated with the provincial and federal governments to achieve BC's first modern-day, constitutionally protected self-governance agreement. This marked a momentous achievement in the history of the relationship among British Columbia, Canada and First Nations.
In February and March 2010, Vancouver was the host city for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.